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Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC)

01/2013 manuscript  of the month

Invisible Saints and Bookbinders

Flicking for the first time through the pages of a small-format manuscript in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic from Hamburg State and University Library, two compass-like illustrations will catch the reader’s attention. They show where one may find a group of saints called “Men of the Unseen”. After a closer inspection of the little book, one may notice that its leaves are in apparent disorder and may wonder who put together such a peculiar volume.Is it possible to answer this question, or will the bookbinders remain invisible?

The format of the book, -that is bound in leather, reminds the reader of a small but rather voluminous pocket diary, (see fig. 1). Its 249 paper leaves are part of different manuscripts, which can be distinguished from each other due to their specific features. On some leaves, for instance, the writing is less carefully executed and the text area has no frame (see fig. 2, left page). On other leaves, one may find a conspicuously small and accurate calligraphy (see fig. 2, right page) or, as another example on the opposite of the title page, a calligram, i.e. a decorative composition of letters, often with various shades of meaning (fig. 3, left page). One may thus determine seven groups of leaves, with each group being taken from a different manuscript. But some leaves belonging to the same group are not in the right order, and some groups are even divided with their leaves being scattered throughout the volume. This raises the question as to who used the seven manuscripts before parts of them were bound and, furthermore, who is responsible for the binding.

Fig. 1: Hamburg, State and Univ. Lib.,
Cod. orient. 5

Fig. 2: Hamburg, State and Univ. Lib., Cod. orient. 5,
fol. 166 v167 r

Fig. 3: Hamburg, State and Univ. Lib., Cod. orient. 5,
fol. 2 v3 r

Except for a few names from e.g. one stamp and two ownership marks, one hardly obtains any information about the owners of the seven manuscripts. The same is true for the dating, since only one of the seven groups of leaves bears a mark of the scribe indicating 1547 CE as the year when he finished his work. But one learns from the text in the seven groups that the original manuscripts were collections of Quran verses, invocations and talismans in both Arabic and Ottoman Turkish, used to protect against enemies or in case of illness or unrequited love, etc. The two compass-like illustrations are part of one of these invocations. They show for each day of the month in which direction one may find the “Men of the Unseen”, i.e. saints who are said to usually remain hidden from men (fig. 4 and 5). It is quite conceivable that those who used these texts for private purposes or to help others arranged them in small-format manuscripts in order to be able to carry them in their pockets or bags. It is highly unlikely, however, that any of the original owners tied up parts of different manuscripts to form the present volume, thus creating such a disorderly mixture.

In 1720 CE, the present manuscript appeared in the catalogue for the private library of the German book collector Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach. Most probably, the manuscript was among the new acquisitions collected by von Uffenbach during his journeys to Lower Saxony, the Netherlands and England. When Carolus Dadichi, a Christian from Antioch, described von Uffenbach’s Oriental manuscripts in 1719 CE for the forthcoming catalogue, he stated that the manuscript was incomplete and disarranged. One may still find Dadichi’s short Latin summary in the manuscript (see fig. 3, right page). In 1749 CE, Johann Christian Wolf, the then head librarian of Hamburg City Library, bought parts of von Uffenbach’s collection including most likely the manuscript in question (see also Manuscript of the Month of August 2012). But Carl Brockelmann, who catalogued the manuscript again in 1908, ignored its state of disorder and described it as a book written by different hands.

Fig. 4: Hamburg, State and Univ. Lib., Cod. orient. 5,
fol. 233 v234 r

Fig. 5: Hamburg, State and
Univ. Lib., Cod. orient. 5,
fol. 233 r

Fig. 6: Hamburg, State and Univ. Lib., Cod. orient. 5,
fol. 151 v153 r

Though one lacks an aid as easily applicable as the compass for the “Men of the Unseen”, it is still possible to deduce how the manuscript took on its present form. The earliest possible date of the binding is 1547 CE, the aforementioned date from one group of leaves. At the latest, the manuscript was bound in 1719 CE when Dadichi inserted his summary in the manuscript. Three groups of leaves show stains from damage caused by a liquid to the lower part of the page whose similar pattern indicates that at least these groups were bound together before, but were rearranged for a subsequent binding. Some leaves, for instance, were turned upside down as one may deduce from the fact that the damage is now at the top of the page (see fig. 6). Moreover, the leather binding of the manuscript is most probably not Oriental, but European. Thus, it is quite possible that booksellers who were unfamiliar with Arabic script acquired the different groups of leaves and bound them together, intending to offer a more attractive manuscript to potential buyers. Maybe they focused particularly on buyers such as von Uffenbach who were not quite familiar with Oriental languages. Thus, the marks left by these ‘bookbinders’ suggest that the composition of the manuscript is not an Oriental, but a European creation.

BERTHEAU, Carl (1898): “Wolf, Johann Christoph”, in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 44, pp. 545–58.
GÜNAYDIN, Yusuf Turan and İbrahim Halil Arslantürk (2007): “Gelibolu Mustafa Âlî’nin Hilyetü’r-Ricâl’inde Melâmiyyûn ve Muhaddesûn Zümreleri”, in: Tasavvuf: İlmî ve Akademik Araştırma Dergisi 8.18, pp. 277–96.
JUNG, Rudolf (1895): “Uffenbach, Zacharias Konrad von”, in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 39, pp. 135–7.
MAJUS, Johann Heinrich, and Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach (eds) (1720): Bibliotheca Uffenbachiana Mssta Seu Catalogus Et Recensio Msstorum Codicum Qui In Bibliotheca Zachariae Conradi Ab Uffenbach Traiecti Ad Moenum Adservantur Et In Varias Classes Distinguuntur, part 3: […] Codices Orientales Reliquos Per Carolum Dadichi Antiochenum Maximam Partem Designatos, Halae Hermundurorum [Halle]: Novum Bibliopolium.
SEYBOLD, C. F. (1910): “Der gelehrte Syrer Carolus Dadichi († 1734 in London), Nachfolger Salomo Negri’s († 1729)”, in: Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 64, pp. 591–601.
SOBIEROJ, Florian (2007): “Gebete in Handschriften der „Türkenbeute“ als Quellen der islamischen Religions- und Sozialgeschichte“, in: Archivum Ottomanicum 24, pp. 61–80.
SOBIEROJ, Florian (2006): “Repertory of Sūras and Prayers in a Collection of Ottoman Manuscripts”, in: Mélanges de l'Université Saint-Joseph 59, pp. 365–86.
Stadtbibliothek zu Hamburg (ed.) (1908): Katalog der Handschriften in der Stadtbibliothek zu Hamburg, vol. 3: Katalog der orientalischen Handschriften der Stadtbibliothek zu Hamburg mit Ausschluß der Hebräischen, part 1: Die arabischen, persischen, türkischen, malaiischen, koptischen, syrischen, äthiopischen Handschriften, described by Carl Brockelmann, Hamburg: Otto Meissners Verlag.

Hamburg, State and University Library Carl von Ossietzky, Cod. orient. 5
7 groups of leaves each consisting of parts from a different manuscript (composite manuscript); only one group dated, 13. Muharrem 954 AH, i.e. 6. March 1547 CE
249 folio, paper, average dimensions: 10.3 cm, 7.5 cm
Leather binding, dimensions: 10.6 cm, 8 cm, 3.7 cm
Date and place of binding: presumably between late 16th and early 18th cent. in Europe

Text by Janina Karolewski